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Economy, Agriculture

main forage, hay crops, Mexican economy, subsistence farmers, poor farmers

Much of Mexico is too dry or mountainous for agriculture; only 14 percent of the nationís land is cultivated or used for plantations and orchards. Irrigation is required to farm in many regions. Most of the food consumed by Mexicans is raised on Mexican farms, although frequent droughts and a population that is growing faster than the amount of food produced have made Mexico dependent on agricultural imports, particularly grains and milk products.

Agriculture accounts for only a small percentage of Mexicoís GDP. Although agriculture employed one-fourth of the nationís economically active population, it only accounted for 4 percent of the value of the GDP in 2000. Between 1950 and 1990 this sector of the Mexican economy grew by only about 10 percent. This was due both to the declining importance of agriculture among the labor force and to Mexicoís increasing industrialization during this period.

Many of Mexicoís agricultural workers are subsistence farmers, who produce only enough to feed their families. Although the Mexican government distributed millions of hectares of land to poor farmers between the 1920s and the 1970s, the plots were generally small and the quality of the land was often poor. In addition, many small farmers were unable to obtain the credit they needed in order to purchase the seeds, fertilizer, or equipment they required to stay in business. This led to high rates of migration from rural areas into the cities, as well as northward to the United States.

Mexican agriculture is highly productive in certain regions, especially near the capital and in the northwest. Corn and beans, the staples of the nationís diet, are the primary food crops, and they grow best in the valleys and basins of the central plateau that surround Mexico City. Wheat is raised on irrigated land in central and northern Mexico and has replaced corn in the diet of many Mexicans. Other principal agricultural products grown for domestic consumption include barley, rice, soybeans, vegetables, and citrus fruits.

Large volumes of products such as coffee, cotton, citrus fruits, sugar, and tomatoes are grown for export, primarily to the United States. Most coffee is grown in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, cotton is cultivated mainly on irrigated land in northwest Mexico, and sugar plantations are scattered in various states, with the largest concentration in Veracruz. About 20 percent of Mexicoís agricultural production is exported.

The main forage and hay crops are alfalfa and sorghum. They are raised in arid regions, often with the use of irrigation, and are important to livestock farmers. Beef cattle are the most important Mexican livestock and beef is an important export. Chickens are raised throughout the country and consumed locally.

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